Indy 500: Bump Day press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Buddy, in a few minutes they're going to present you with a check for $50,000 for last place -- last qualifier. LAZIER: I'll take it. Q: It hasn't been a thing they've had before. Is this kind of a great reward...

Continued from part 1

Q: Buddy, in a few minutes they're going to present you with a check for $50,000 for last place -- last qualifier.

LAZIER: I'll take it.

Q: It hasn't been a thing they've had before. Is this kind of a great reward for a last-minute effort?

LAZIER: Sure it is, you know. It's a big deal for the team with all the effort they put in. You know, I think with the way IndyCar racing is today, the future is so bright, and there's going to be more and more race cars and teams. Probably Bubble Day is going to have a lot of drama in the future; I can see it coming. Here at Indy, weather is such a sensitive part of what makes the race cars work and is so important. Obviously in May, the weather is always changing and always getting hotter. So usually second weekend isn't as fast as first. I'm sure this award will have a lot of hard-fought battles to get it and I'm very happy about it. I didn't know they had it, and the team really deserves it.

Q: Did you just find out now?

LAZIER: I found out a few minutes ago. Pretty neat. They always do neat things. I'd rather it be the pole trophy, but I'll take that, for sure, and the team would love to have it.

Q: You had a vast improvement in the last hour from your first qualification run to your last one. When you pulled off after three laps 217 across the board, did you really honestly think that you could make that improvement that you did?

LAZIER: I thought we could. I was just nervous that it may or may not stick. I knew our plan was to go out, put our best foot forward. We were able to -- that's pure engineering. I'd love to say I can dig deep and find three-and-a-half miles an hour at Indy, I can maybe find a half or so. But that was just Ron Dawes' engineering. You know, Ron Hemelgarn had a mind in there, Lee Kunzman and Dennis. Dennis, our crew chief, he was our crew chief for me in 2000 when we won the championship. That guy, you can ask anybody, he's as good as there is. And Brandon is very good. Brandon, I just found out after working with him for 12 years and then being away, that he's a grandson of Dick Simon, and he's the crew chief we had forever and he never told me that. There's a lot of roots in our team and a lot of experience. We took every bit we had because it was a wicked day. That racetrack -- I've seen it like this before and it's probably very similar to Race Day what's going to happen wi th the heat and barometric pressure but certainly not ideal conditions for qualifying.

Q: Buddy, you achieved two of your greatest moments with your team, winning here in '96 and winning the title in 2000. Then you both kind of went your separate ways, didn't really experience much success with teams that you were with or them with other drivers. How much does it seem kind of right that you're back with this team in that car?

LAZIER: It does. It seems right and I have to really thank Ron Hemelgarn and Mr. Johnson for the opportunity. Because I had a lot of things going. I was with Hemelgarn for what, 12 years, 10, 12 years, and those were great years. We experienced a lot together. Then I actually raced for him in CART because he ran CART a lot of years. I think this is his 30th year at the Indy 500, which is really rare as a participant. I mean, that's a big number. So I ran with him, you know, in the early days of CART as a teen-ager and here with him as a teen-ager. We had a lot of success, so it feels very right. I mean, you know, we had -- I feel like I did have some success with other teams since then, but there's always something very special about that team and those people. I mean, the team is the people and those people have a lot of experience, the Hemelgarn/Johnson Racing. Around here that pays big dividends when you don't have a lot of time.

Q: Buddy, your wife said when you were done with that run, when she went over to you, she saw some tears and heard you radio for somebody to get your sunglasses. Were there some tears shed?

LAZIER: Sure, it's a very special race. I know how close we were. Like I say, I really feel for the guys that didn't make it because I don't think it has anything to do with their ability. Make no mistake, I mean you could probably put a guy that just didn't make the race and put him in a front-row car and anybody who's telling you the truth, they may not be front row but third row. Equipment around here is everything. What makes a good driver is communicating what the car is doing with your crew. You've got to know what you're doing to be here. But what separates probably -- I think every driver here is extremely competitive and probably every one of them is capable of winning, really. So probably what separates them is the equipment that you have and getting the most out of it. So it's a very special place. Again, I really feel for those who didn't make it. Our late start just really showed. We were all very nervous about how late we got started and it showed, it really did . We struggled and struggled. The racetrack did not help us out. I can't tell you how slippery that track was these last two days.

We thought cool day, I thought overcast, calling for overcast, I thought it would be a wicked-fast day. It turned out to be not at all. So there's a lot of white-knuckling, I heard somebody say, and that's exactly what it was out there.

Q: Buddy, Dan Wheldon came up and spoke to you before that final run, and it looked like team Ganassi was helping out with the car. What did he say to you and what help did they provide?

LAZIER: I'm blessed to have friends, but yeah, we just talked about what the car was doing and he helped reaffirm what I needed to do. We were already on our way to ripping downforce off the car. But a real good guy. When you've raced here, there are guys on that crew that I think a lot of, too, their crew. You know, his engineer was my engineer at Panther, and we had a lot of success there. And Dan is a class act. He's a previous winner and he was just trying to see -- he was seeing if he could help, basically, and I really appreciate that.

Q: Buddy, I talked to Ron Hemelgarn the other day, and he said you guys have had your ups and downs, you obviously won the race in '96 and you finished near the end. But the toughest days are when you finish second and sit down and say, "If we only did this, we could have won it again."

LAZIER: Yeah, that's true. It's true because when you win, it's great, you can put it on the shelf and it's wonderful, but those second places kill you. I've got two of them. They haunt you; they just haunt you because it's always what-if, a little bit quicker here.

Having said that, with the late start we got, I'd be thrilled with second. But we'll go back and do what we know how to do, and I think we're going to be pretty good for the race.

Q: Buddy, you were part of this race when everybody was together, you were part of this race during the split. How much does it mean to you to be back in this race when it's unified?

LAZIER: It means a lot. A lot of the race teams that are coming back that are new, I drove for a lot of those guys. You know, Dale Coyne. I know a lot of them and I've always felt like -- you know, really, both sides of what was a fence, obviously everybody is together, and I feel like I know all the guys that are new that are coming here for the first time or the team owners, a lot of those guys I drove for in the early days of CART. Like you said, I raced seven years before, and so it's very special to me. I really believe IndyCar racing has never been so bright, the future. And I'm excited to see how it goes, how it grows.

Q: Buddy, how important was it to pull up a big number on the warm-up lap and essentially qualifying now instead of a four-lap run, is it essentially five-lap run now with the importance of the warm-up lap?

LAZIER: Actually I was being careful on my warm-up lap because you can burn -- I guess if you're really stuck and hooked up, you want to do your qualifying lap to see if you can make any onboard adjustments with the bars. I guarantee you today, everybody going over 19s were going like crazy with the bars making adjustments. I was trying to be very careful not to burn the tires off. What will happen, you get excited and you go like crazy that first lap and you didn't bring them up to heat right. If your tires only have three-and-a-half laps in them and you burn them off on that first lap, then you drop off very badly. As it was, it was really hanging it out on that last lap because we had burned off -- you know, the Firestone tires are awesome tires, but we were testing their limits here today.

Q: Buddy, I've always thought you were one of the most dogged race drivers I've ever seen. Does that go back to your days when your dad took you to Denver all the time to overcome dyslexia and you got that determination set into you?

LAZIER: I love racing and, you know, you have to be aggressive to move forward. So to be aggressive you have to have a car that wants to be, you know, that can be driven like that as well. So I don't know what to say. I came up, I think my ski racing, I came up, I was going to ski in the Olympics, I was part of a very elite team called Ski Club Vail, and a lot of those guys have gone on to be in the Olympics and win. One of them just won the World Cup title this year. So I mean, it was downhill ski racing for me. So just a lot of the racing background probably makes it so that when I came here as a teen-ager, I had already had 20 years of racing experience. So, you know, you've got to be aggressive to move forward, though. So I don't know.

SULLIVAN: Any further questions?

Buddy, it's always great to see a champion perform under pressure like you did. Congratulations.

LAZIER: Thank you. Thank you.

-credit: ims

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dan Wheldon , Dale Coyne , Dick Simon